Thursday, 8 September 2016

Latest update to my book about the history of the Whelan and McDonnell family of Dublin

Sarah McDermott
I must thank a gentleman named Mike McDermott who contacted me through this blog to tell me he is a descendant of Nicholas McCluskey, who was a close friend and political ally of my 2 x G Grandfather John McDonnell the blind basket maker of Bolton Street in Dublin. Both men were Poor Law Guardians and used their positions to campaign for better and fairer treatment of poor people generally in North Dublin and blind people specifically in the late Victorian and Edwardian era.
I have written and blogged fairly extensively about John McDonnell and often pondered about the close relationship between McDonnell and McCluskey.
Mike has filled me in with a fantastic amount of information about the McCluskey family and their marriage to the McDermott family, through his grand parents. It seems that the McDonnells may even have been cousins to the McCluskeys, though this has yet to be evidenced more fully.
Mike has also given me some great stories about the political life of his McDermott ancestors, including the fact that his family shared an ancestor with Sean McDermott, one of the signatories of the Proclamation of Irish Independence, read out by Patrick Pearse at the Post Office in Dublin to launch the 1916 Rising.
Another closer ancestor, indeed Mike's grandfather's sister was a woman named Sarah (or Sorcha) McDermott, a radical republican and suffragette who supported both the 1916 Rising, the Irish War of Independence and the anti-Treaty side in the Irish Civil War.
I have subsequently updated my study document about these families (on the side of my maternal grandmother) which can be viewed on Calameo at this link:
The updated information is from page 91 to 104.
I will also blog the various sections of this story in the coming days. 


Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Coming soon to this blog

I have been a little bit neglectful of my blog recently, mainly because I have been pre-occupied with research and with writing and creating more of my online documents about different branches of our family tree.

To recap, my name is Pete Millington, I was born on 25 December 1961 (yes on Christmas Day). My parents (Geoff and Joan) were working class Brummies. Just to explain, Brummie is a slang colloquial expression for a person from Birmingham UK, a large industrial city in the English West Midlands. The region is synonymous with metal bashing and manufacturing trades, but also for William Shakespeare, Cadbury's chocolate and the steam engines that drove the industrial revolution. 

Both of my parents have a fair bit of Irish Catholic genes. I have four sisters and one brother. I'm married to Theresa (also of Irish ancestry) and we have three teenaged children.

I took up genealogy about 20 years ago, although really I thought of it more as collecting stories as my family, like many others I would guess, had a great tradition of passing on oral history from one generation to the next. In fact, my fascination with family stories was started for me as a child by my grandmother who told us stories about her life in India in the early 1920s. For me then, genealogy is about collecting and conveying stories, or narrative, just as importantly as it is about adding ancestors to my tree.

I'm intrigued by the coincidences and random moments of inspiration which occur in family research, I'm not a very religious person but I do often feel a strong sense of ancestors leading one in the search, I hope that doesn't sound too weird though I am certain that other family researches will relate to that sense of the past speaking to us. The past is another land, as someone once wrote, and travelling through the past is truly a wonderful journey to go on from time to time.

So, now I am recommitted to my blog (famous last words) ...what's to come?

Earlier this year my sister Alison married an American named Mike Cipriano and I began a quest to trace Mike's tree for him and his brothers. This has pre-occupied me for some months and I finally finished the project (well for the moment) in August 2016 in time for their family reunion. So I will start to blog that research soon, but in the meantime you can read the full document by clicking the relevant link in the right hand column (under Calameo publications).

It really was a fantastic journey for me as I learnt all about the migration of southern Italians (Cipriano and many other Italian family names) from the port of Naples to New York in the late 1800s and early 20th century. On Mike's mother's side there were the Bregg family who were the archetypal American settlers of the 18th century who travelled across the mighty new continent,  laying down their roots and taking part in all those momentous battles of American history. For the first time in my family research.... cowboys!!

In amongst the Breggs I discovered a branch of Mike's family named Elliott who were Ulster Presbyterians, the frontiers-folk of the 1700s who took part in rebellions and battles before laying down their own roots of American respectability. There's also some fascinating insights into American Deaf culture in there too, which was something we weren't expecting to find.

Also on Mike's mother's side were the Blumbergs of San Francisco, originally poor Polish Jews from Russian occupied Warsaw who went to the States via London. I am certain this must have been a common experience for tens of thousands of American Jewish families.

I've also started some research into the Palmer and Parsons families of the south coast of England. This is the family and ancestors of a sister-in-law of mine here in England, Rachel. Again, some fascinating stories here, such as Rachel's great grandfather, a London based journalist who set out to debunk the spiritualists of Edwardian England and America and ended up falling out with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle but earning the respect of Harry Houdini. That story is coming real soon to the blog.

There are plenty more stories in the pipeline, on the Irish side of my family I have recently learnt of a family connection to a rebel leader who signed the 1916 Proclamation of Irish Independence. On my wife's side of the family there are leading rebels in the 1798 insurrection in Wexford, including the priest John Murphy who led the rebellion. Plus loads more to come.

If you want to read my research please click on one of my books in the Calameo format.

If you think we are related or have any kind of connection, please email me at

Thanks for reading!    


Vintage adverts from the south coast of England

A marriage proposal by Royal Navy telegram

What we are mainly interested in are the snippets of information relevant to the Palmer family history. He refers for instance to a visit before the war to his brother Peter’s home, Bush Cottage in Hillingdon with his parents and there are similar reflective insights into the family life of the Palmers, such as this diary entry made on 9 February 1940:  

" I have passed the time on watch lately dreaming of our days at Minsmere and on the Broads. The pre-breakfast bathe, breakfast. Then the peaceful visit to Dunwich, eagerly visiting the Post Office to call for letters; another bathe and lunch, followed by an afternoon reading and asleep; then – and this I remember particularly vividly for some reason – tea of bread and jam and excellent cake in rather a hurry, whilst Rip (the dog) stood by miserably, knowing that   we were going to play golf and not take him for a walk. I remember the golf so vividly too – every hole and so many incidents. It was a perfect holiday. How I would love to do it all over again. How I would love too to go on the Broads again. I wonder if we ever shall?"

Ibid. Palmer, John / 2002
John also recalls the first time he saw his wife-to-be, Mary Ellyat:

" I well remember joining Clematis, having completed the course at King Alfred. I was told to report to Swansea where she was building. I set off to Paddington Station where my parents also came to see me off. Inevitably it must have been a distinctly sad occasion for them. By extraordinary chance we met on the platform one of the Cambridge contingent – John Ellyatt – who was there also with his parents and his sister, Mary, then at school at Sherborne with special leave. We met again later when she was a boating Wren in Plymouth. Her brother and I duly reported to the Naval authorities at Swansea only to be told that no such ship was there. Finally, after some research, it was established that she was in Bristol. "

Ibid. Palmer, John / 2002
In October 1941 John was to meet up with Mary again and their relationship began:

" We went into Plymouth for a boiler clean when John Ellyatt’s sister was a boating Wren there. I had met her on Paddington Station as a schoolgirl from Sherborne. It was too good a chance to miss. I asked John Ellyatt if I might take his sister out for the evening. ‘I wish you would,’ he said, and so it   started. "
John Palmer

Throughout the rest of his diary Sir John Palmer gives no further detail about the wartime romance between himself and Mary Ellyatt, perhaps he felt it was too personal to share in a published book primarily about Naval experiences during WW2.  
However, he does finally tell the tale of their wedding in February 1945 and how he apparently proposed the wedding date via a Naval telegram:

" It was while I was in Amethyst when we used to come into Plymouth periodically that I felt I just could not wait any longer to propose to John Ellyatt’s sister, Mary, the boating Wren, then a Petty Officer, whom I had first met when in Clematis but had had very little chance to see thereafter. It was inevitable that when I had the chance to see her more I would want to persuade her to marry me. And so indeed it was. As soon as I got back to Amethyst again one evening just before we were due to sail with another convoy across the Atlantic, I managed to get the message to her on her boat (which follows and which I found she had kept).
" The following morning when we were just beginning to leave the dock, Mary appeared on the dockside, waved to me and held her thumbs up. Amethyst left Plymouth with me a happy man.

Mary Ellyatt

" We then agreed, miraculously, by correspondence which we managed to exchange that we should aim at a wedding when we came into Liverpool for our next boiler clean. Mary knew that it usually took four or five weeks to take a convoy out and to bring one back and had managed to alert her parents to the probability of a decision to fix the actual date as soon as we got back to Liverpool. It was indeed when we next came in that I sent her the telegram which follows. Somehow her parents had managed to be prepared for it, guessing at the sort of date. It was enormously kind that so many officers and ship’s company, including Scott-Elliot and the Captain of Hart, should have managed to come to Shaldon that Monday in February.

" The banns had been read while I was away. We were married in St. Peter’s   Church at Shaldon. We had three days’ honeymoon, the last a night in Birkenhead. We sailed in the morning. I was wearing some fur-lined boots which Mary had given me. As we passed the Royal Liver Buildings, Ninian Scott-Elliot spotted them as we stood on the bridge and said, ‘I suppose that is what marriage does for you’. All I can say is that they were mighty useful in the cold of the North Atlantic. Mary had by then returned to her Wren duties in Plymouth as coxswain of a boat based in the dockyard at Devonport. There then followed further convoys across the Atlantic. It did not occur to Mary or to me that we might in Amethyst be overcome by some disaster, and that I would not return. The European war ended. It was then that I was appointed to the staff at Dryad, finally being demobilized in March   1946. They had been remarkable years. "
Ibid. Palmer, John / 2002

John Palmer’s proposal to Mary Ellyatt via a Naval telegram

John Palmer's wartime memoirs (continued)

John Palmer is called for an interview at Oxford
in regards to his application to join the Navy
John Palmer joined the Royal Navy with five other Oxford students on 9 September 1939. They were joined by another six recruits from Cambridge University a few weeks later, one of whom later became his brother-in-law.

According to John, his brother joined the army and spent the whole of the war at Bletchley. Sir John comments, “after the war he went to Cheltenham. It is    noteworthy that I still did not know what he was doing and still did not ask him. Sadly he died when only fifty-four”.  

John names his brother in his book as Peter and sure enough a Peter C Palmer (“Pip”) is listed in Bletchley Park records as having served there between 1942 and 1945 in Hut 3 and Block D(3) as an Army Adviser and in Block F, Newmanry. His rank was Army, Int Corps, Capt.

It seems that Peter was some 8 years older than John. His birth is indexed in the last quarter of 1912 at St Pancras, London. Mother’s maiden name Sapey. He married Marie Rose Theresa Egan at Westminster in the late summer of 1950 and for some time lived in Washington before being made a CBE. In his book John Palmer provides a brief but intriguing anecdote about an American associate of his brother Peter who was made an Honorary KBE:

"Again when I met him after my brother’s early death, he made no reference to his work, but he did show me his KBE in his study. I remember his wife coming into the room and remarking how unlike him it was to be talking to me about it, to which he replied that it was the first chance he had had. He would not have shown the award to anyone else because they would have asked him how he had got it, which he would not be prepared to tell them.

Ibid. Palmer, John. 2002

Peter C Palmer became a Vice Chairman of GCHQ in Cheltenham and a strong candidate for Chairman. He died on 28 November 1963 in Gloucester. The Details of the administration of Peter C Palmer’s Will are listed in the National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations). His address was Woodlands Cranham, Gloucester. The Administration took place at Exeter on 28 April 1964 to Marie Rose Therese Palmer, widow, and John Chance Palmer solicitor. £13865.
Details of the administration of Peter C Palmer’s will are listed in the
National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations). 28 April 1964.
At the start of his book, Sir John Palmer gave a brief synopsis of his diaries and his service in the Royal Navy during the war:

"For most of my time I served in three ships – a corvette, a frigate and a sloop – I kept a diary which I still have, recording life in the corvette (Clematis) and the frigate (Exe). In the sloop, Amethyst, I have the records of where we went, but, as the Navigating Officer, there were additional responsibilities and consequently rather less time to keep a diary. I do, however, still have the Navigating Officer’s Notebook in which I worked out all the sun and star sights in order to establish our position when we were out of sight of land.

Ibid. Palmer, John / 2002

The diaries make fascinating reading, a combination of long periods at sea searching for enemy convoys and submarines punctuated by short but fierce incidents of conflict which bring home the realities of war on the ocean waves. The sudden and dramatic loss of vessels on either side with the tragic and generally huge loss of human lives and it’s impact on those skilful or simply lucky enough to survive to fight another day. John Palmer tells his story with respect and dignity, sometimes a certain sense of vulnerability and fatality, but never triumphalism.

Christopher Palmer’s parents

Christopher Palmer’s parents were Sir John Chance Palmer (1920-2003) and Mary Ellyat (1923-).
John Chance Palmer was born on 21 March 1920 at Chancery Lane, London. His parents were  Ernest Charles Palmer (1884-1954) and Claudine Pattie Sapey (1890). Sir John Chance Palmer died on 13th July 2003 at Exeter, Devon.

Mary W Ellyat was bon in Lewisham, London in 1923. her parents were Arthur Sidney Ellyat (1886-) and Winifred M East. Mary W Ellyat married John Chance Palmer in 1945 at Newton Abbot in Devon.
In 2002, 12 months before his death, John Chance Palmer published a diary of his experiences as a wartime sailor between 1939 and 1945. As well as being a valuable and unassuming account of conditions in convoy escorts during the Second World War, the book provides the Palmer family history with a rich addition of insights into Sir John’s early life, his loves, intellect and character. The book also offers us many hints and clues of other family members.

He introduces the diary with clear hints as to his two great passions in life, political debate and sailing:
"My father was sure in 1937 that war with Germany was inevitable. He said I should go to Oxford as soon as I could, although it would mean doing so at   seventeen. He was right. In consequence I had two years there while most of my contemporaries had only one. They were academically undistinguished ears. Apart from the minimum of work, my time was spent at the Union, in politics and in sailing. In my first year Edward Heath was President of the Union and many others of those who spoke and survived the war later became national figures. My politics were then Liberal. I well remember speaking on street corners in Baldwin’s constituency of Bewdley where Liberalism could hardly have been more of a lost cause. I remember Heath as a most kind and considerate President who always managed to be encouraging to those of us who spoke. I have no record of debates except one, where I still have a copy of the Cherwell report of a debate when I had spoken but I am afraid it is not very flattering. ‘There then followed an amusing but totally irrelevant speech from Mr John Palmer.’

"It is refreshing to reflect on how unselfconscious one was and how seriously   one took oneself in those days. Sailing we took even more seriously. There   was just time to sail against Cambridge in 1939 at Falmouth. Thereafter for   the next six years life became rather different."
Palmer, John. Luck on My Side: The Diaries and Reflections of a Young   Wartime Sailor 1939-1945. Pen & Sword Books Ltd 2002.    

Sir John sets a scene of the eve of the war with a personal account of an entirely innocent school-boy visit he had made to a German school in the late 1930s, recalling the procedures of Nazi indoctrination which were by that time well-embedded in German society:
“It is difficult now and even more difficult then to think of being at what was a very Nazi school. It was a tough regime, being woken at 6.30 in the morning and ordered to run round the grounds even in deep snow. That was followed by being given two sandwiches which was all you got for breakfast but only after the swastika had been hoisted and we had all stood to attention giving the Nazi salute”.

Ibid. Palmer, John 2002

He remarks “I did not know then how soon we would be killing each other.”